Monday, October 24, 2011

I've been baking bread for years... And I'm still a total novice

I have a favorite recipe. For a while, I was making all of our bread. I had it down almost to a science. But I could never figure out why my crust would look sort of crinkly and the bread would be kind of crumbly at the edges. I took a lengthy break from baking bread when Gage came along, and I'm now trying to get back into it. Of course I've lost the "down to a science" part, but I figure I can get my baking groove back with practice.

I made two loaves today. As usual, the bread came out kind of wrinkly and weird. It tastes delicious though, which is the important part. I decided to ask my friend Google some questions about why my bread was coming out as it is, and I quickly found my answers. Basically, I'm a baking hack. OK, not quite, but I've still got a lot to learn. I can't be too hard on myself though, yeast breads at altitude are notoriously difficult to master. Here's what I found out.

1) I'm not kneading long enough. I use my Kitchenaide stand mixer for kneading, but I only let it go for a minute or two after all ingredients are mixed and dough is the right consistency. Apparently for yeast breads that should have a smooth texture, it should be kneaded for 5-8 minutes if using a mixer. Yeeeaah. That's a lot longer than my usual minute or two.

2) I cover the bowl that the bread rises in with a flour sack dishtowel, which results in an unfortunate crusty coating on the dough. I should be covering it with oiled plastic wrap, because that crusty coating impedes rising.

3) I'm ripping the big dough ball right in half after punching it down to separate it into two loaf pans. Apparently that screws up the gluten strands. I should be cutting the dough in half with a sharp blade or scissors, in one downward motion.

4) I'm not effectively shaping my loaves before putting them into their pans. I should be shaping them roughly, letting them rest for a few minutes, and then placing them into loaf pans.

WOW. I didn't realize I was doing so many things wrong! I'm looking forward to eating up these two loaves so I can try again with these tips at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately, Gage is a homebaked bread fiend (maybe he gets that from his momma). He will certainly help me eat my crumpled, flaky, yet delicious bread. I'm glad he likes it, even if it isn't pretty. I sure do!

And hey, sometimes good flavor is the best us novices can hope for after baking for years. HA!

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